The Millions

Formal Poetry Is Not a Museum Piece: The Millions Interviews Aaron Poochigian

Aaron Poochigian, a brilliant formalist poet and translator of ancient Greek and Latin literature, already published two books in 2021, and has a third due in November. In February, Liveright Books brought out his new translations of four Aristophanes plays; his book of poems, American Divine, was published in March by the University of Evansville Press, having won that university’s Richard Wilbur Award the year before. This winter, Liveright will publish Poochigian’s first translation of a modern literary work: Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil.

Poochigian and I chatted via email earlier this year about his career as a translator and his practice as a poet.

The Millions: Did you have any particular agenda when you set out to translate Aristophanes?

Aaron Poochigian: Yes, I did. I worked from the start to bring the full musical virtuosity of Aristophanes over into English. In the last 50 years translators have tended to render his comedies as free verse or prose. In the original, for all their wild and liberating content, they are strictly formal poetry throughout, and certain meters are employed in fixed and dramatic ways. When I say “formal,” I mean there are regular rhythms and variations to those rhythms, so that modulation from one prevailing meter to another has a striking effect. Free verse and prose translations, by their very nature, sacrifice this effect. So, yes, I am a bit of an evangelist, in respect to form, in my translations.

TM: Do you consult other translations while working on your own?

AP: I compare my translations to others after I have completed a mature draft of them. If I find an earlier translator has hit on a mot juste I had missed or has better brought something to the surface, I make minor revisions.

How do

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